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Changes made outside and in at college

Brady Slater

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A pair of major projects took over the Fond du Lac Tribal and Community College campus this spring and summer. One, the renovation of the commons area, is ongoing, while the other wrapped up earlier this month.

As part of the Forest Stewardship Project, the college underwent a significant tree-thinning effort, dubbed a selective harvest. Built on the remnant timber plantation, the college’s tree thinning effort sought to improve fire safety and “long-term regeneration of a more species-rich and age-diverse forest,” the college website said.

“We could see that the red pines were getting stressed by growing so closely together,” said Courtney Kowalczak, director of the Environmental Institute at FDLTCC.

Impacts on the remaining trees have been immediate.

“We are seeing positive changes in the landscape,” Kowalczak said. “Maples and birches that were overshadowed by the dense red pines are now flourishing in the additional sunlight.”

Responses from the campus community have been “really positive,” she added — a good feeling, because the decision to cut was hard, Kowalczak said. Each tree selected for harvest was offered asemaa (tobacco) in gratitude, the college website said.

“As anyone knows that has been on our campus, the trees are very important to our staff, faculty, and students,” Kowalczak said. “This is one of the reasons that we did take a while to plan out the thinning.”

President Anita Hanson assembled a team that included faculty, staff and students, along with forestry experts from the Fond du Lac Band’s Resource Management and the University of Minnesota’s Cloquet Forestry Center, to collaborate on planning.

Since the harvest, forest areas are noticeably less dense with more sunlight reaching the grounds. Stumps now dot the landscape, along with piles of wood chips.

“The wood chips were collected so that we could create new trails for wellness activities on our campus, use for mulch in our gardens, and share with our outreach partners for use in their gardens too,” Kowalczak said.

Trees that weren’t chipped were sold for lumber by the logging contractor.

According to the college, in the 1950s, Potlatch Forests Inc. clearcut the land and planted red pine to be harvested for timber products after 60-90 years. In 1991, the state of Minnesota appropriated the land for the construction of Fond du Lac Tribal and Community College.

Now that harvest has been completed, the college can move ahead with plans for the future.

“We are already in discussion with partners and our campus community on the next steps to support the ecology of our campus,” Kowalczak said. “We will be creating pollinator-friendly habitats within the trees, adding native fruiting bushes, and more maples to create a sugar bush on the campus.”

Commons renovated

Inside work at the Fond du Lac Tribal and Community College began as soon as spring semester let out, and at a time when most summer courses are held online.

The $1.8 million renovation of the commons area meant plastic sheeting went up throughout the interior of the main building to prevent dust from traveling.

“The commons area will have the same open feel, but with an updated look,” said Bret Busakowski, the college’s executive financial officer.

In 2018, the college completed a renovation and renewal plan to update several areas on campus, including replacement of worn carpeting and tile.

“The commons/amphitheater area had the greatest need, as the carpeting needed replacement,” Busakowski said. “Also, the stairway leading to the second floor near the main entrance was in need of an update.”

Carpeting is being replaced with terrazzo flooring throughout the area. Terrazzo is longer-lasting and easier to maintain, Busakowski said. With removal of the carpeting came concerns about sound quality.

“So ceiling tiles will be replaced with acoustic dampening material and all walls and trim will be repainted and updated,” Busakowski said. “The project also replaces existing stage lighting, updates the audio system, and improves the acoustics in the commons area.”

The college received project funding allocated by the Minnesota State Legislature in its 2022 bonding bill. Technically, it’s being funded through Higher Education Asset Preservation and Replacement monies — first sought by the college with a proposal submitted in 2021.

The college had previously done some updates in 2019, when a first section of hallway had terrazzo flooring installed and some classrooms and restrooms were updated.

There are more plans ahead. But the current phase is expected to be done before fall semester starts in mid-August.

“This will allow students and guests to use the pathway to get from the Student Services area to other parts of campus,” Busakowski said.

A subsequent phase will include other walkways and is scheduled to be done by the end of November.